Grieving is perhaps one of the most universal of human experiences. To be alive in the world is to know loss at some point in our journey. In these times of great loss–from the pandemic, from the destruction of the natural world, from the intimate and personal losses we rarely speak of–many of us are inhabiting a space of grief and pain. Yet the action of grieving can be inaccessible for many, the “how to grieve” unknown.
Those of us who have inherited colonial modes of thinking and behavior may never have experienced a communally-held grieving process. We may have lost connection with our ancestors’ cultural practices of grieving. We may have been taught to hide, suppress, and turn away from the pain of loss. And yet, to grieve wholly, to allow it to move through us, requires acknowledgement of the pain. To turn towards it and say “I see you, I am with you, the loss is real.”
When we turn away from the pain of grief we turn away from ourselves. We fear being overwhelmed by grief, we fear that it will never end and we will lose ourselves. We see no outlet, no way for our pain to be felt, held, and released. And so we deny it, bury our heartache, and attempt to “move on.” But shutting down our sadness, denying our pain, only shuts down necessary parts of who we are, it reduces our capacity for being fully alive, feeling all of our feelings. When we cannot feel fully, we are cut off from what will allow us to heal and grow around our grief and, then, to re-engage with the full range of human emotion and expression. Denying our grief ultimately also denies us our joy.
To confront this legacy, to attempt to heal it, begs the question: what does it mean to have a relationship with grief? While dominant US culture has retained few processes or rituals to help us through loss, other models exist and are centered around the idea that healing comes from being witnessed and grieving shared. Many of these models come from lineages we have lost touch with. Some have been shared by teachers like Sobonfu & Malidoma Somé, who brought grief practices of the Dagara People from Burkina Faso to the US, or Frances Weller, who created new rituals for holding the space of collective grieving. In Weller’s work he acknowledges that we grieve for many things, not only for what we have lost, but also for what we never received, like safety, nurturance, care. We may even grieve for losses yet to come–the inevitability of our own death, of losing the ones we love, of a planet on the brink.
From these teachers and many more, a through-line emerges. Grief touches us all and the expression of grief, being held through our grief, can be a transforming agent that heals us, lifts us, and ultimately enlarges our capacity to feel and hold the fullness of our humanity.
Grief is a skill we can learn to do together. It takes a safe and loving "container" and a lot of personal courage to step into grieving in community. If finding community support for grieving calls to you, consider entering the space tenderly held by Ahlay Blakely and Laurence Cole during our upcoming grief retreat.